Feb 20, 2022
From Blame to Compassion
Series: (All)
February 20, 2022. The sermon today, on our reading from Genesis about Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery, is about forgiveness, of ourselves and others.
 
Readings: Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Luke 6:27-38
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Joseph’s brothers did him wrong. There's no question about that. The choice they made out of jealousy, resentment, annoyance, vengeance, has no excuse. And no matter how arrogant and presumptuous Joseph was as a young man, no matter how unfair Jacob’s favoritism of his younger son, there is no excuse for what Joseph's brothers did. And the damage they did was significant. For years, Joseph lived in slavery. He endured physical hardship and even abuse, false accusations by Potiphar’s wife, ridicule for the gift of dream interpretation that God had given him. And Jacob, Joseph's father, lived all those years thinking that his beloved son was dead.
 
Ultimately, Joseph’s fortune turns around. Pharaoh comes to believe him, and not only releases him from prison, and sets him free from slavery, but puts him in charge of guiding the whole country through the famine that had come over the land. By the time Joseph’s brothers come to him desperately seeking food they will need to survive the famine, Joseph has forgiven them for what they did — sort of, anyway. We aren’t told how that happens for Joseph. Maybe it was the time that had passed since his brothers sold him. Maybe it was because the physical slavery and the hardship that had resulted from what his brothers did had ended. Maybe it was the great position of power and privilege that he found himself in. One way or another, Joseph has been set free not only from his physical prison, but from the emotional prison of resentment and anger. Truly, a miracle has happened.
 
Forgiveness is not an easy thing. If it were, the Bible would not need to include so many stories about it, such as Joseph’s story today, and Jesus would not have continually taught things like we hear in our gospel today: “Love your enemies, be good to those who hate you.” If forgiveness was something we could just choose once and for all and be done, there would be no need to talk about it, right? But it is hard. And there's much to learn from what scriptures share about how to respond when we are wounded.
 
But this time through these readings what caught my attention was not only Joseph and his ability to forgive, but his brothers who had done him so much harm. Because we’ve all been there, too.
 
Some years ago, I did something that hurt someone else. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last — I am human after all — but this particular time felt epic. I didn’t intend to hurt the other person. I didn’t even realize it at the time. But when it was over, harm had been done. The kind of harm that brings heat to the cheeks and a rock in the gut, and the desire to never show myself in public again — at least not if that person was involved.
 
This is, perhaps, some of what Joseph’s brothers were feeling, when they realized that the very person they stood before as they asked for food in the famine was the brother whom they had sold into slavery years before. Our translation says “dismayed” but the Hebrew is perhaps a little closer to the mark: disturbed, alarmed, anxious, terrified.
 
For years, they had agreed amongst themselves to never tell anyone what they had done, and to that day even their father didn’t know that Joseph, the favored son, was still alive. For years, they had been silent about the horrible harm. The shame they felt had bound them in fear and blame, separated them from each other, and from everyone else.
 
To go back to Joseph for a moment, he didn’t immediately leap to forgiveness. In the chapters right before today’s story, Joseph actually seemed to delight in tormenting his tormentors for a time, although they didn’t yet recognize him, accusing them of stealing and threatening them with imprisonment and starvation. It is only after seeing his eldest brother willingly sacrificing himself for the youngest that he relents. And Joseph wept, bitterly and loudly, before perhaps choking out the words, “I am Joseph. I'm your brother. Is my father still alive?” Forgiveness doesn’t come easy but Joseph does it, with God's help.
 
And now here his brothers were, asking the one they had betrayed to the point of death to save their lives. Disturbed, alarmed, anxious, terrified.
 
And as we imagine ourselves in their shoes, perhaps we can see that it is hard to forgive, but it is also hard to be forgiven. They have over the years never told anyone what they did to Joseph, never went to their father begging forgiveness, never went to seek the brother they had sold. But still, the transformation was happening. And when it came down to a choice between repeating the harm they had done or giving themselves up in slavery, the eldest brother offers himself up. He can’t do this to another brother. He can’t grieve his father a second time. The selfishness of the past has become courage and compassion.
 
This seems almost miraculous, doesn’t it? Joseph, sold into slavery and abused, imprisoned for years, face to face with the brothers who had betrayed him. Somehow, the brothers have been changed from what they were the day they took the gold. And somehow, Joseph, weeping, moves past his own resentment to forgiveness. It seems impossible, doesn’t it?
 
Fortunately, it is precisely where we fall short that God steps in. And as Joseph’s brothers stare at him, speechless in the shame they still feel, Joseph tells them that it is God who has brought the healing they are experiencing. Let’s be clear: God did not send Joseph into slavery to save people from famine — God does not work that way. Joseph’s brothers did the selling, and as the scales of years of fear, blame, and disconnection from his family fall from his heart, Joseph can see with courage and compassion instead, and say to his brothers that God took that harm and transformed it for a good none of them could have imagined.
 
And as the scales of years of fear, blame, and disconnection fall from the brothers’ eyes, they understand fully the harm they have done, and recognize the courage and compassion that has transformed not only Joseph, but themselves as well.
 
Forgiveness is not easy, and there are times when the harm done has been so great that boundaries and distance and even separation are necessary for healing and wholeness to take place. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. But whether reconciliation is possible or not, miracles of courage, compassion, and connection happen every day, just as they did for Joseph and his brothers. It takes time and patience. But with God, it is possible.
 
We are, in our humanity, people who mess up often, who hurt one another, who fail to live in the love of the God who made us for love. We can all be bound up in the shame we feel and feel that we will never be free. And we are, in our humanity, beloved children of God who continue to grow and experience the miracles of community, forgiveness, and healing that God has for us.
 
Joseph’s brothers did him wrong, no question. But when it comes to forgiveness, of ourselves and others, God never gives up — not on them, not on Joseph, and not on us.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Luke 6:27-38
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  • Feb 20, 2022From Blame to Compassion
    Feb 20, 2022
    From Blame to Compassion
    Series: (All)
    February 20, 2022. The sermon today, on our reading from Genesis about Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery, is about forgiveness, of ourselves and others.
     
    Readings: Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Luke 6:27-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Joseph’s brothers did him wrong. There's no question about that. The choice they made out of jealousy, resentment, annoyance, vengeance, has no excuse. And no matter how arrogant and presumptuous Joseph was as a young man, no matter how unfair Jacob’s favoritism of his younger son, there is no excuse for what Joseph's brothers did. And the damage they did was significant. For years, Joseph lived in slavery. He endured physical hardship and even abuse, false accusations by Potiphar’s wife, ridicule for the gift of dream interpretation that God had given him. And Jacob, Joseph's father, lived all those years thinking that his beloved son was dead.
     
    Ultimately, Joseph’s fortune turns around. Pharaoh comes to believe him, and not only releases him from prison, and sets him free from slavery, but puts him in charge of guiding the whole country through the famine that had come over the land. By the time Joseph’s brothers come to him desperately seeking food they will need to survive the famine, Joseph has forgiven them for what they did — sort of, anyway. We aren’t told how that happens for Joseph. Maybe it was the time that had passed since his brothers sold him. Maybe it was because the physical slavery and the hardship that had resulted from what his brothers did had ended. Maybe it was the great position of power and privilege that he found himself in. One way or another, Joseph has been set free not only from his physical prison, but from the emotional prison of resentment and anger. Truly, a miracle has happened.
     
    Forgiveness is not an easy thing. If it were, the Bible would not need to include so many stories about it, such as Joseph’s story today, and Jesus would not have continually taught things like we hear in our gospel today: “Love your enemies, be good to those who hate you.” If forgiveness was something we could just choose once and for all and be done, there would be no need to talk about it, right? But it is hard. And there's much to learn from what scriptures share about how to respond when we are wounded.
     
    But this time through these readings what caught my attention was not only Joseph and his ability to forgive, but his brothers who had done him so much harm. Because we’ve all been there, too.
     
    Some years ago, I did something that hurt someone else. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last — I am human after all — but this particular time felt epic. I didn’t intend to hurt the other person. I didn’t even realize it at the time. But when it was over, harm had been done. The kind of harm that brings heat to the cheeks and a rock in the gut, and the desire to never show myself in public again — at least not if that person was involved.
     
    This is, perhaps, some of what Joseph’s brothers were feeling, when they realized that the very person they stood before as they asked for food in the famine was the brother whom they had sold into slavery years before. Our translation says “dismayed” but the Hebrew is perhaps a little closer to the mark: disturbed, alarmed, anxious, terrified.
     
    For years, they had agreed amongst themselves to never tell anyone what they had done, and to that day even their father didn’t know that Joseph, the favored son, was still alive. For years, they had been silent about the horrible harm. The shame they felt had bound them in fear and blame, separated them from each other, and from everyone else.
     
    To go back to Joseph for a moment, he didn’t immediately leap to forgiveness. In the chapters right before today’s story, Joseph actually seemed to delight in tormenting his tormentors for a time, although they didn’t yet recognize him, accusing them of stealing and threatening them with imprisonment and starvation. It is only after seeing his eldest brother willingly sacrificing himself for the youngest that he relents. And Joseph wept, bitterly and loudly, before perhaps choking out the words, “I am Joseph. I'm your brother. Is my father still alive?” Forgiveness doesn’t come easy but Joseph does it, with God's help.
     
    And now here his brothers were, asking the one they had betrayed to the point of death to save their lives. Disturbed, alarmed, anxious, terrified.
     
    And as we imagine ourselves in their shoes, perhaps we can see that it is hard to forgive, but it is also hard to be forgiven. They have over the years never told anyone what they did to Joseph, never went to their father begging forgiveness, never went to seek the brother they had sold. But still, the transformation was happening. And when it came down to a choice between repeating the harm they had done or giving themselves up in slavery, the eldest brother offers himself up. He can’t do this to another brother. He can’t grieve his father a second time. The selfishness of the past has become courage and compassion.
     
    This seems almost miraculous, doesn’t it? Joseph, sold into slavery and abused, imprisoned for years, face to face with the brothers who had betrayed him. Somehow, the brothers have been changed from what they were the day they took the gold. And somehow, Joseph, weeping, moves past his own resentment to forgiveness. It seems impossible, doesn’t it?
     
    Fortunately, it is precisely where we fall short that God steps in. And as Joseph’s brothers stare at him, speechless in the shame they still feel, Joseph tells them that it is God who has brought the healing they are experiencing. Let’s be clear: God did not send Joseph into slavery to save people from famine — God does not work that way. Joseph’s brothers did the selling, and as the scales of years of fear, blame, and disconnection from his family fall from his heart, Joseph can see with courage and compassion instead, and say to his brothers that God took that harm and transformed it for a good none of them could have imagined.
     
    And as the scales of years of fear, blame, and disconnection fall from the brothers’ eyes, they understand fully the harm they have done, and recognize the courage and compassion that has transformed not only Joseph, but themselves as well.
     
    Forgiveness is not easy, and there are times when the harm done has been so great that boundaries and distance and even separation are necessary for healing and wholeness to take place. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. But whether reconciliation is possible or not, miracles of courage, compassion, and connection happen every day, just as they did for Joseph and his brothers. It takes time and patience. But with God, it is possible.
     
    We are, in our humanity, people who mess up often, who hurt one another, who fail to live in the love of the God who made us for love. We can all be bound up in the shame we feel and feel that we will never be free. And we are, in our humanity, beloved children of God who continue to grow and experience the miracles of community, forgiveness, and healing that God has for us.
     
    Joseph’s brothers did him wrong, no question. But when it comes to forgiveness, of ourselves and others, God never gives up — not on them, not on Joseph, and not on us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Luke 6:27-38
  • Feb 13, 2022Come to the Water
    Feb 13, 2022
    Come to the Water
    Series: (All)
    February 13, 2022. Today we remember our own baptisms and name our connectedness, to one another by the water that fills and nourishes every cell of our bodies, and to our God whose love for us and for all creation is beyond our capacity to understand.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I've always loved water. Maybe it goes back to the hours I spent with my family on a boat on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, or the beauty of the Mississippi River that connects my hometown of Minneapolis down to St. Louis where we are right now, the lakes around the Twin Cities and all the ponds that are up there, but water has always seemed to bring me to a place of calm and connectedness. One of my favorite places is Gooseberry Falls, in northern Minnesota on the North Shore. The splashing of the water against the rocks grows louder with every step you take toward the falls, and that's along with the sounds and voices and laughter on sunny days when there are lots of people. One of the best parts of Gooseberry is that it is really three waterfalls in one, with the water pouring down each rocky cliff, one after the other.
     
    The river is surrounded by rock — all colors, shapes, and sizes, some like sets of stairs to climb as you make your way to the Upper Falls, some smooth and flat and perfect for sitting on if you want to just watch the water, some rising out of the river itself like stepping stones allowing the courageous to cross from one side to the other and back in search of new paths. And framing the stone are thousands of trees, with paths running through them like so many veins, carrying light, air, animals, and people into the woods, and back again.
     
    And then, of course, there is the water itself. One year I sat by the edge of the Upper Falls, listening to the water colliding with the rocks and then rushing over and around them, when I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. As Gooseberry River makes its way down the Upper Falls, it doesn’t go down all in one rush, but divides and flows around the rocks in the cliff, forming hundreds of mini water falls as it goes. I became fascinated with how different they all were, in size, shape, direction, even speed, and I could have spent hours just watching them.
     
    I took pictures of course, but that doesn’t capture the beauty experienced when you are sitting there, so close you have to raise your voice to be heard over the roar of the water, and can feel the mist off the rocks a few feet away.
     
    Jeremiah says today, and our psalmist echoes, “They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots to the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” That describes something of the feeling I have when I am near water. Moments like this connect me to the presence of God in profound ways, because with stone, dirt, water, trees, sunlight, and air all around, I feel grounded in the Spirit of the one who created it all.
     
    That feeling of being parched, which Jeremiah and the psalmist also describe, are probably familiar to all of us — especially these days perhaps. We've all experienced feeling like chaff, withered, empty, at different times in our lives. We all need the water of the Spirit, to be connected to the God who is the source of all love, healing, hope, and life.
     
    Perhaps some of you, like me, experience God when you are close to the world God created, whether it be literal water, or mountains, the thick of a forest, or the unique beauty of the desert. But that is certainly not the only way or place to connect with our Source. Where and how do you experience the life that comes from being connected with God? You may feel the Spirit close when you create music, with voices or instruments. Some of you have shared that arranging flowers for our altar is a meditative experience that feeds your soul. The rhythm of breath and feet as you walk, or run, or ride your bike, may ground you as it connects body, spirit, and creation and the Creator together. The words of scripture, or the sacredness of silence, or the feeling of the holy in this building perhaps, can connect us to the Word, who existed long before anything else.
     
    Our readings today carry a message for those who know they need God. It is a promise for every one of us, whose very breath of life comes from the one who formed and shaped us in the womb. Where do you go to connect with the life and love of the Spirit of God?
     
    For today, we return to that water. As Luther put it, water plus the Word of God, the waters of baptism . . . . we know and celebrate the promises of God who is present in all things. We remember how much we need God who gives us life. We sing with the psalmist of the abundance of love and life that flow out from us to the world, a gift of the God who created it all.
     
    Today, we remember our own baptisms, and who we are as beloved children of the God of life. We celebrate Scarlet and Zachary, and proclaim in this community the overflowing love that God has for them, and has had since the beginning of time. We name our connectedness, to one another by the water that fills and nourishes every cell of our bodies, and to our God whose love for us and for all creation is beyond our capacity to understand.
     
    Today, we come again to the water of the Spirit, our source. There, we will find life.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, Martin Luther, Scarlet McMullen, Zachary McMullen
  • Feb 6, 2022Cast Your Net to the Other Side
    Feb 6, 2022
    Cast Your Net to the Other Side
    Series: (All)
    February 6, 2022. As we claim in our baptisms, whether we believe we can do it or not, regardless of how much the very idea may terrify us, we too are called to be fishers of people. In her sermon today, Pastor Meagan talks about what that means for us.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 6:1-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    That day, on the sea, Simon Peter was doing what he always did on any ordinary day. He, along with his shipmates and partners, had been hard at work, trying to make a living and provide for their families, as many of us do. He had no reason to expect, when he got up and said goodbye to his wife and left home, that this day would be any different from any other day. He got into the boat, set out to sea, and cast the nets, hoping to catch enough fish to pay the taxes he would owe the tax collector, with enough left over to cover his family’s needs.
     
    All night they fished, casting the nets again, and again, and again, and — nothing. And this was Peter’s profession, something he had been doing for all of his adult life. They knew these waters. If anyone should be able to catch fish, it would be Peter and his crew. And still, as happens sometimes: nothing.
     
    Finally they gave up and came back to shore, and as they cleaned up so they could go home after a long, unproductive but quite ordinary night, the first unexpected thing happened. Jesus, looking for a way to preach to the large crowd that had gathered to hear him, came to Simon Peter and asked for a favor.
     
    So out they went, so that Jesus could speak from Peter’s boat. And when he was done, Jesus told Simon Peter to head out to deep waters and let his nets out again. And in spite of his weariness, the worry of not bringing anything home to his family, and annoyance at the itinerant preacher who was telling this career fisherman how to do his job, something about Jesus had drawn Peter in. Or perhaps, he just wanted to prove Jesus wrong. “If you say so,” he said. And then the second unexpected thing of that otherwise ordinary day happened.
     
    Thank goodness Peter wasn’t alone on the water that day. His partners had gone back out with them, and between the two boats they just barely managed to get back to shore, hauling the biggest load of fish they had ever seen. And like Isaiah of the unclean lips, and Paul who had persecuted followers of Jesus, like almost all of the prophets of God, and like so many of us, Simon Peter falls to his knees and says, “Wait a minute, what are you thinking? I can’t do this! Go find someone else. You’ve got the wrong person.” Funny thing is, Simon Peter doesn’t even know what Jesus is asking him to do yet.
     
    And just like that, Simon Peter’s whole life changed. He went out that day to catch fish to provide for his family. He hit a wall, perhaps not for the first time, and they caught absolutely nothing. And just when they had given up for the day being “fishers of fish,” Jesus showed up, and Simon Peter became one of his followers, “fishers of people.”
     
    As we claim in our baptisms, whether we believe we can do it or not, regardless of how much the very idea may terrify us, we too are called to be fishers of people. What does that even mean? Because it certainly doesn’t mean we go around throwing nets over everyone we meet, pulling them into our boat, and hauling them back to shore.
     
    For one thing, if we are to be fishers of people, we have to step out of our comfort zones. That’s part of why this is such a scary thing. Isaiah answers God’s call saying, “Here I am. Send me,” not knowing where God may send him. Paul, who was raised as a Pharisee and taught to be suspicious of anything that seemed to threaten what he knew, left his comfortable upbringing far behind as he went out to share the good news and promise of God in Jesus.
     
    For Peter, it meant giving this itinerant preacher a lift, and then listening to him when he suggested something that sounded a little crazy. Throwing the net down on the other side of the boat. And in a matter of a few hours, Simon Peter has put down the fishing nets he has used his whole life in order to follow Jesus.
     
    For us as for them, answering Jesus’ call to be fishers of people challenges us to leave the solid ground of what is familiar to us, what we have always done, with its steadfastness and predictability and familiarity, and head out to the sometimes chaotic deep waters of trying something new. We, like all those before us, are invited to let go of what we think we know, and trust that God will lead us when we don’t know the way.
     
    Being fishers of people opens our hearts to see people we may normally overlook, especially to those who may look, talk, think, and live differently from us, extending the “net” of God’s grace and love in unexpected ways, right in our own neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. We do this within, as we strive to welcome everyone who enters into this space in our sanctuary and our Zoom space, but also outside of this congregation. Jesus tells Simon Peter to set out for deeper waters, and Isaiah says, “Send me,” not knowing where he will end up after all.
     
    We learn, as we fish with Jesus, just how wide the net of God’s grace is. It is wide enough to catch us when we feel the least prepared or capable. It is strong enough to carry us when we have tried everything we know, and are exhausted and have nothing left. It is deep enough to hold us when we are at our most broken. This is what Peter learns on the boat with Jesus that day. And this perhaps is why, even after catching so many fish they could barely haul them to shore, he was willing to leave his boat and all that he had known to follow this itinerant preacher who showed up, asked for a ride, and then told them to cast their net on the other side.
     
    “Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells Simon Peter. Like Simon Peter had his partners to help him with his unexpectedly large catch of fish, we have each other as we follow Jesus. This is something we do together, in community. Jesus does not promise that being a fisher of people will be easy. But Jesus does promise to be with us and guide us when we cast our nets on the other side, no matter what unexpected things may happen along the way.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 6:1-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
  • Jan 30, 2022The Spirit Unleashed!
    Jan 30, 2022
    The Spirit Unleashed!
    Series: (All)
    January 30, 2022. For centuries we have believed in a “zero-sum game,” that there are limited resources available, and if we extend resources to those who have none, there will be less left for the rest. But today we hear that God promises to be with us all the way, and that there will always be enough.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I remember when I was newly on a board for a conference planning committee, and I was chosen to be the committee co-chair. The chair, among other things, was responsible for facilitating the joint meetings of the board and the committee, a gathering of about 40 people, a responsibility that would be mine if they needed to be absent for any reason. My immediate reaction, as I thought about the possibility that I might need to step in to chair the meeting, or that I might be chosen as chair the following year, was panic. There is no way I can do this, I thought. I can’t possibly facilitate a meeting like that. They’ve got the wrong person.
     
    In our first reading today, Jeremiah has a similar reaction when he hears God’s call for him. Maybe some of you can relate as well, as Rachel was just talking about. “You say you’ve known me since the womb, but honestly, what are you thinking, appointing me to be a prophet to the nations? Just look at me! I’m too young! I can’t speak your words to all these people. You’re going to have to find someone else. I’m not worthy. I don’t have what it takes.”
     
    And as we read on, we can hardly blame Jeremiah for trying to beg off what God is asking him to do. It’s not as simple as it sounds at first, after all. God has appointed Jeremiah “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” In other words, God is calling Jeremiah to challenge the powers and empire of his day, and turn the world upside down.
     
    Jesus’ ministry is no less disruptive. Mary sang in the Magnificat that God had scattered the proud, lifted the lowly, brought down the powerful, filled the hungry, sent the rich away empty. And as we heard last week, when Jesus preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth for the first time, he reads Isaiah’s words claiming release for the captive, freedom for the oppressed, and good news for the poor — turning the world upside down.
     
    And in today’s gospel, when Jesus tells his listeners that these words have been fulfilled in their hearing, and that they really mean what they say, his friends, neighbors, and family find it so radical and hard to accept that they try to push Jesus off a cliff.
     
    Interestingly, it seems as if one of the specific things about what Jesus said that his neighbors were angry with was that this message of good news was not just for them, who knew Jesus best. Jesus belongs to God, not Joseph, he says. In fact, the Spirit often carries the promises to the very last person you would expect, even going to them first of all. Jesus’ neighbors rage, believing that if others benefit from the good news, there will be less left for them, perhaps even nothing.
     
    A group from Christ Lutheran is reading The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, and in it she fleshes out what she refers to as our nation’s “zero-sum game.” For centuries, we have believed that there are limited resources available, and if we extend resources to those who have none there will be less left for the rest.
     
    Specifically, those who hold the most resources have lifted up the narrative that if money, time, and freedom are available to those on the margins, who they say do not actually deserve these resources — usually starting with people of color, and extending to immigrants, people living in poverty, people with disabilities — these people who they say do not deserve the resources. And those who don't deserve the resources in their estimation are the ones who will suffer the most from it.
     
    Jesus’ neighbors may have bought into their own zero-sum game. When Jesus tells them that a prophet is not accepted in their hometown — that those who know a prophet best often reject the prophetic voice and therefore miss the working of the Spirit among them — they hear him saying that the Spirit is going to skip them entirely. And they lose it. The prophet is indeed, as Jesus predicted, rejected in their hometown.
     
    Clearly, the call we have to follow the Spirit who unleashes herself among us is harder than it seems. We are called not to comfort and ease, but to commitment to love in action. We're called to go out of our safe places right to the margins, to challenge the powers that oppress and impoverish and imprison, and speak words that, if we're honest, even we may not want to hear. That’s what we're called to as people of faith.
     
    This is radical. Sometimes, like Jeremiah, we want to say we just can’t do it. Find someone else. Sometimes, like the people of Nazareth, we want to take the bold hometown prophet who is calling us to transform in ways that make no sense to us, and throw him off the cliff, rather than listen to another word. Sometimes, like the Corinthians, we distract ourselves by clinging to old ways of thinking, ranking ourselves and earning our place, rather than following Christ into the kin-dom work of love in action.
     
    Today, we have our annual meeting, and we reflect on the ministry that our congregation has experienced in the last year. We recognize the council who has invested all they have in leading us through the incredibly challenging time that has been 2020 and 2021. We see the creativity, energy, time, and excellence of our staff as they have reinvented their roles more than once since COVID began. We celebrate how we as a congregation, in the midst of our weariness, fear, and frustration, have followed the Spirit’s lead in so many ways.
     
    We hear the call of Jesus, the call of God that came to Jeremiah, all the prophets, and to us today. We recognize that, as Jeremiah learned and as Rachel pointed out, each of us has gifts that we are called to share for the good of the world. The Spirit has been unleashed among us, and we follow that Spirit’s lead, to carry the message of God’s promise out of our comfortable spaces, right to the margins. God doesn’t promise it will be easy — in fact, it probably won’t — but God does promise to be with us all the way, and that is enough. There will always be enough. May the Spirit fill us with love that guides all we do, and embolden us to share the good news as we welcome and serve within our walls and well beyond.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30, Rachel Helton, The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Jan 23, 2022Today God’s Promises are Fulfilled
    Jan 23, 2022
    Today God’s Promises are Fulfilled
    Series: (All)
    January 23, 2022. “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If someone were to come here and say that to you, what would you think? Pastor Meagan preaches in her sermon today that the Spirit of God is upon us, anointing us to bring good news to those who need it most, and that this scripture has indeed been fulfilled among us.
     
    Readings: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Luke 4:14-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When a president or a bishop is elected, or a CEO starts at a new company, or a professor is introducing a new class of students to the semester, their first words carry a lot of weight. It's a key opportunity to let everyone know what to expect, and what the vision is for the work they have been called to do together. While of course much more will be revealed over time, the power of that first speech or article — the inaugural address, if you will — cannot be underestimated.
     
    In today’s gospel, Luke presents Jesus’ first words to his neighbors — his inaugural address — to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. And as such, it is well worth spending some time with what Jesus chose to share in the synagogue that day.
     
    Much of what Jesus says he reads from the scroll. For Jesus, as a faithful Jewish man, the Hebrew scriptures were sacred, and of all the texts he knew and studied, he searched through the scroll he was handed from Isaiah and chose a certain passage starting with, “The Spirit has anointed me...” From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus points to God, the Spirit who anoints and brings life to all of creation. The Spirit of God is embodied in Jesus as he stands in front of his neighbors, friends, and family, reading from those sacred scrolls.
     
    As the scripture continues, Jesus reads of the promises of the Spirit who anointed him: good news, release, recovery of sight, freedom... for those who are poor, blind, captive, and oppressed, those who need it most.
     
    And, even more significantly, Jesus tells them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Not next week, not next year, today. In our reading from Nehemiah, Ezra was speaking to people who had lived through exile and the destruction of all that they knew, and they had barely returned to the ruins of their former community when they gathered to hear the reading of the law, which was itself a gift of their time in exile. The priests and scribes had spent their time of exile compiling and editing ancient stories and scrolls that had been handed down among the Hebrew people, and it was a gift of their reunion just to be together hearing those sacred scrolls. And when he had finished the reading of the Torah, Ezra gave the Israelites the same message Jesus gave those in the synagogue: today is the day of the Lord. Today is the day to celebrate the fulfillment of the promises of our God.
     
    If someone were to come in this morning to this sanctuary, to our Zoom space, and say that, what would you think?
     
    Today, Sunday, January 23, 2022, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. This morning, at the beginning of our third year of pandemic life, as we sit in our sanctuary wearing masks, and in our living rooms on Zoom, or isolated due to exposure or infection, the scriptures have been fulfilled.
     
    Today, at about 10am Central Standard Time on this Sunday morning, with the sin of racism still painfully evident, homelessness a reality, and voting rights, affordable housing, and even clean water inaccessible to many, in our own neighborhood, community, country, and across the world, God’s promises are at hand.
     
    Today, on this Third Sunday after Epiphany, almost a month after our celebration of Christ’s coming into the world, with unusual storms brewing and weather patterns shifting and scientists warning that our earth has reached — or is reaching — a crisis point, today is the day to celebrate and claim God’s presence in this world.
     
    Today, as we look forward to our community’s annual meeting next week, where we will celebrate what God has done among us in the last year, and look forward with hope to a future that in so many ways is unknown, the Spirit of God is anointing us.
     
    Today, on this day of your life, with all of the joys and sorrows, illnesses and health, community and loneliness, healing and brokenness, as you may wonder, as Mr. Roger talked about, whether you are a head or heart or perhaps just the stomach, hungry, the Spirit is alive and God’s promises are a reality.
     
    What are you thinking? How are you feeling, as those words are proclaimed?
     
    We have an idea how some of those listening to Jesus, and to Ezra many centuries before him, were feeling. Many of the Israelites, we are told, wept as the scrolls were read before the people, overcome by the grief of all that had been lost, and overwhelmed by sheer joy and relief of being together in community again, hearing the stories and the history and the promises of God read among them for everyone to hear.
     
    In next Sunday’s gospel the story of Jesus’ inaugural address continues, as some of Jesus’ neighbors press him to the edge of a nearby cliff and try to push him over, they were so desperate to silence a message that seemed to make absolutely no sense.
     
    In the midst of all the reactions, protests, tears, joy, wondering, the promise of God persists, as it always does. Jesus, pushed to the edge of that cliff, simply walks through the crowd and on to continue sharing the good news. Nehemiah and Ezra assure the Israelites that among the rubble they see in front of them, with all of their grief and joy, today is indeed the day of God’s favor.
     
    So what are you thinking? What are you feeling? There is room for all of it, and all of us, with all of the gifts we heads and hearts and stomachs have to share. And through it, the Spirit of God is upon us, anointing us to bring good news to those who need it most. This day is holy to our God, and God’s joy is our strength. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled among you, in your hearing.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Luke 4:14-21
  • Jan 16, 2022Even Mirabel Has a Gift
    Jan 16, 2022
    Even Mirabel Has a Gift
    Series: (All)
    January 16, 2022. Today's sermon is about gifts. Just as everyone in the Madrigal family in the new Disney movie “Encanto” has a special gift to contribute to the community, so Paul writes in our scriptures for today that there are many gifts among the Corinthians, and all are important.
     
    Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The new Disney movie “Encanto” — we just talked about just a little bit — is in one sense a fanciful tale about a magical family where everyone has a gift that makes them stand out from the others. In another sense, it's a story of a community’s trauma, and survival, and resilience. The Columbian people have been through a lot, and the fact that they are alive at all is a miracle in itself. They survived because of the family Madrigal, led by Abuela, who brought them to a place of safety and created a beautiful house and community protected by magic.
     
    Everyone in the family Madrigal has a special gift to contribute to keep that community going, and when each child reaches a certain age, they are given a magical doorknob that opens the door to their own unique gift: strength, beauty, creativity, healing, transformation. All of the Madrigals have a gift — except, it seems, for Mirabel. When she tries to use her doorknob, the magic appears to fail for the very first time. Mirabel, everyone says, does not have a gift. And while Mirabel’s parents support and encourage her, Abuela and some of her siblings continually remind her that she really doesn't have anything to share, and her best contribution to the family is to stay out of the way.
     
    In our second reading today, Paul is writing to the people of the way, followers of Jesus, who are trying to figure out who belongs, how to live together, and most of all, what it means to be a follower of Christ. They are, Paul sees, discussing these things among themselves, and as often happens in this new community, they have begun to argue about who is worthy to belong and who has the most value. In the process, some among them attempt to rank the gifts of those in community, lifting up those who have more valuable gifts. It's tempting to see the showier gifts as more important, and the Madrigals struggle with this too. In “Encanto” Mirabel’s sister Isabela prides herself in her ability to make perfect flowers and spectacular beauty, and she seems to delight in holding herself above Mirabel in particular, and the Corinthians are no different. Like the Madrigals, the Corinthians have invested a lot of energy in determining whose gifts are the most important.
     
    As Paul watches the growing community in Corinth, he realizes that they have missed the point, and he seeks to help them understand who they are. In today’s reading, Paul writes that there are many gifts among the Corinthians, and all are important. All of the gifts the Corinthians have, that we have, come from God. There are no right or wrong or better or worse gifts, Paul tells us, because they all have unique value. In “Encanto” no two Madrigals have the same gift, and everyone is overjoyed to watch as young Antonio Madrigal opens his door to discover that he can talk to animals! It's interesting to note that there are several lists of spiritual gifts in Paul’s letters and other places in the scriptures, and each list is different.
     
    Paul also makes it clear that the gifts God has given are not intended for our own status and benefit, but for the good of creation. He writes, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Abuela reminds the Madrigals often that the gifts they have are essential for the community’s very survival. Mirabel’s sister Luisa has unbelievable strength, and Mirabel realizes that she is beginning to crack under the pressure of literally carrying the weight of the world (or at least a couple of pianos and a few donkeys) on her shoulders. This feeling that it all depends on you can cause a lot of pressure, and certainly the Corinthian leaders feel this as their community grows and faces challenges and oppression.
     
    That is why it's so important to remember that the gifts God gives us, unique as they are, are not meant to make us stand out, but to bring us into faithful, just, loving community. No one gift — no one of us — can stand on our own. And we aren’t meant to. This week we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the message of justice and community that he shared. He had profound gifts for preaching, encouraging, speaking truth to power, calling for God’s justice in this world. And with him, behind him, before him, were so many others whose gifts were equally essential to the change that the Spirit was bringing through those days of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. And the Spirit continues to work through the gifts of those seeking God’s mercy, justice, and healing in our still-broken world.
     
    We often think of Reverend Dr. King as a hero whose words inspired thousands across the country, and that is certainly true. But not everyone saw it that way at the time. He wrote some of his most profound words from a jail cell after being arrested, and called in those around him who wished that the truths he spoke about racism, classism, and economic injustices were not so hard to swallow. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts were actually seen as threats to those in power, to the point that he had an FBI file and was ultimately assassinated. Truth be told, we generally still prefer the easier truths, spoken in soft, gentle words and tones, to the clearer prophetic voices that reveal the broken places and pain we would rather not face.
     
    Paul in his letter makes it clear that all gifts, not just those that feel convenient or easy, are given by God for the good of the community. Like those challenged by Reverend Dr. King’s truths, the Madrigals have their struggle with this too. Mirabel and her family notice that there are cracks in their house, the magic seems to be faltering, and it gets so bad they can’t ignore it any longer — although Abuela certainly tries. As Mirabel figures out what is causing the problem and finds a solution, she uncovers secrets about her Uncle Bruno, discovering that he hid away after his gift for prophecy seemed to predict the very destruction they are now facing. Bruno’s inconvenient gift, perceived as a threat, was locked away for years.
     
    Mirabel is not daunted, and convinces Bruno to delve into the truth instead of hiding from it. In so doing, she finds that she does have a gift after all. Mirabel has a capacity to face fear and doubt with courage, and call people together in ways that no one knew were possible. And in the end, not just the Madrigals, but all of those they had been protecting, join together in the process of rebuilding their community on a stronger foundation. In a new way, because of Mirabel, Abuela learns that everyone’s gifts have value, and all of the Madrigals learn just how important community is.
     
    All gifts, not just those that feel convenient or easy, are given by God for the good of the community. Just because we don’t recognize or understand a gift doesn’t mean that it’s not essential. And it is only in community that we can truly discover and live into the gifts God has given us. Paul says over and over that the gifts of the whole community are necessary for its well-being. And in our gospel today, when the wine runs out at the wedding of Cana, Mary helps Jesus see that his time has come after all, and as frivolous as it seems, all of the guests benefit as the celebration of joy and love continues with the best wine. Our community can help us see the gifts we have when we may not yet see them for ourselves.
     
    There are many gifts, but the same Spirit, given by God for the common good. And everyone has gifts to share, even Mirabel.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
  • Jan 9, 2022Following the Star
    Jan 9, 2022
    Following the Star
    Series: (All)
    January 22, 2022. When was the last time you set out on a journey with only a single star for your guide? Today's sermon is about the journey of the magi and the truth revealed in Epiphany.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Matthew 2:1-12
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When was the last time you set out on a journey with only a single star for your guide? When I'm going somewhere I typically want to know where I'm going, how to get there, and what I should do and expect once I arrive. The idea of following a star sounds a little crazy, even terrifying. If the wise people had invited me to join them, they might have had a hard time getting me out the door. They, however, seem to have taken their mysterious journey in stride. They were likely astrologers, so it was probably not such a strange thing for them to follow the guidance of a star. When the star disappears, they stop to ask directions, and continue onward. The wise ones follow all of this, seemingly without question. Nothing else seemed to matter.
     
    From the start, logically, nothing about this journey makes any sense. A mysterious star that shines and disappears. A king with ego issues and ulterior motives. The words of scribes and chief priests who serve the king, not the greater good. The star again. And finally, a dream. No GPS, no map, and truth be told, when they set out the wise ones didn’t even know where they were going.
     
    The wise ones were seeking the one who would be, as Isaiah describes, a light for all nations, a light that will guide exiles home. The psalmist tells us that this baby who will be king will bring justice for all who are poor. He will deliver those who are oppressed, have pity on the weak, redeem those caught in violence. Given this promise, nothing mattered but following the star, no matter where it led them.
     
    January 6, 2021, as I was preparing my Epiphany sermon for last year, I watched as many of you did with a mix of shock and horror as thousands of armed people climbed walls, broke windows, and entered and interrupted congressional session in what was by definition a coup. I was sickened as I heard the pain of colleagues and friends of color who know just how differently this would have turned out had the coup been led by black folks or other people of color. Epiphany tells us a story about three kings, following a star, traveling from far parts of the earth to see the radical truth of what God is up to. And once again, this year, on this first anniversary, I am hearing the story of Epiphany teaching us about truth, empire, and God’s persistent and faithful guidance and work in this world.
     
    Epiphany literally means, in one definition, a sudden revelation or insight. An awareness of a truth that wasn’t apparent before. I think about when I realized that I was not, and never would be, perfect — leaving me at once horrified and giddy with relief. Or when I saw my parents as actual human beings for the first time. (Yes kids, this might happen to you, too!) I think about those major national events of my lifetime that have changed forever how I see the world: the explosion of the Challenger, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the attack on the World Trade Center, the two full years of pandemic life, and of course, the events of January 6, 2021.
     
    In her blog Journey With Jesus, Debie Thomas writes, “During this brief liturgical season between Christmas and Lent, we’re invited to leave miraculous births and angel choirs behind, and seek the love, majesty, and power of God in seemingly mundane things. Rivers. Voices. Doves. Clouds. Holy hands covering ours, lowering us into the water of repentance and new life. In the gospel stories we read during this season, God parts the curtain for brief, shimmering moments, allowing us to look beneath the ordinary surfaces of our lives, and catch glimpses of the extraordinary.”
     
    Epiphany is about truth revealed, and that's not always comfortable or welcome. Because often God’s truth challenges us to see things differently, to change our minds on things we thought we were certain of. And often, God's truth reveals threats to the empire, the powers and privileges that shape our world, and truth be told, make us feel safe. The three kings brought news to Herod of what they saw God doing in the world — bringing a new king — and that threatened everything Herod had. When the wise people, who Herod tried to make allies to his empire, failed to return to tell him where they could find Jesus, Herod sent his soldiers to kill all the babies to prevent this “new king” from taking power. And in our country, we have witnessed empire threatened, willing to use any means to hold onto power — even if it means, figuratively speaking, burning everything.
     
    The good news is, Herod, the empire of Jesus’ time, didn’t succeed in taking power. And neither, Christ Lutheran family, will the empire of today. The journey will not be easy, and we're a long ways from the end of it. But still, God is here, among us. The good news of God in Jesus Christ is that God’s work in this world cannot be subverted, or prevented, or even delayed. Empire notwithstanding, God continues to guide us, sometimes in the most surprising of ways.
     
    Following the star is no simple task. For one thing, a star is not exactly a neon sign. It's so easy to get distracted from the journey. But if we take a moment to think about what the star means, we know, just as the wise ones did, that nothing else matters. We live in a broken world that is in desperate need of mercy, justice, and redemption. We need the God who came to us in Jesus, who will bring us home, and show us what's really important. We need the God who stands with those who are most impacted by poverty, oppression, and violence, and who calls us to make that a priority, above anything else. We need the God who reminds us that if one person suffers, we all suffer. Nothing else matters. We need to follow the star.
     
    God is with us on this journey, and gives us the courage and faith to take it. But God does not follow the star for us. That's our job. There's a time for waiting and watching and wondering, but this is not it. Epiphany is a time to focus, and to follow the star that leads us to Christ.
     
    Each time we take an action to bring truth and justice to our world, we're claiming the promise of the one who set that star in the sky to guide us. When we walk the road with someone who is in pain, we open our hearts to the God who promises healing and forgiveness. When we share the abundance of this world with a neighbor, we are following the star to Jesus, whose mercy will bring a day when no one will be without. When we stand against oppression, and are willing to change so that oppressive systems fall even if it’s not convenient for us, we are proclaiming that there is room on the road for everyone. The wise people knew, and we know, that the star leads to hope not just for some, but for all.
     
    I still don’t know for sure if I would have gone with the wise ones, if they had invited me to follow the star with them, but I hope I would have. Because the star, as hard as it may be for us as human beings to keep track of, and as scary as the unknown journey might be, reminds us that God has always been faithful, and always will be faithful, to God’s promises. On our own, we would never find the way. We are not in charge of this journey. We're followers, ones who trust in God, who has never failed us. We know the mercy, justice, healing, and love of God, and we respond by taking a step in the direction the star is leading us, not knowing where we will end up. And today, some 2000 years later, the journey of the magi continues. We too follow that star. And at the end of worship today, we will ask God’s blessings on the journey as this new year begins. Nothing else matters, as long as we follow the star.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Matthew 2:1-12, Journey With Jesus, Debie Thomas
  • Jan 2, 2022God Delights in You
    Jan 2, 2022
    God Delights in You
    Series: (All)
    January 2, 2022. In today's sermon, written by Pastor Meagan and read by Mark Roock, we hear about how God knows every detail of our backstories, and delights in each one of us.
     
    Readings: Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    This sermon was prepared by Pastor Meagan, so I want you to imagine that you're receiving it as a letter. So I would begin with: dear friends. Greetings to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
     
    When I graduated from college and moved back home, it didn’t take long before I joined the church choir at my childhood church. After all, I had always loved singing, and had been in one choir or another since I was in third grade. A fellow choir member, Barbara Lynch, had been part of that church since before I was born, and she began to tell me stories of things she remembered from when I was a kid, running around the halls of Our Lady of Grace Church and School.
     
    One of the stories she told me had been shared with her by my grade school music teacher, George Carthage. On his last day with us before retirement, Mr. Carthage asked what we wanted to sing, and we chose our favorite, The Holy City. Although I hadn’t thought about it in years, I instantly remembered the day — and the song — she was talking about. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing, hosanna, in the highest, hosanna to your king!” Over, and over, and over we sang it, until we were tired of it — which I imagine probably took us much longer than it took Mr. Carthage. As I recalled it, I realized that that day was one among many that fed my love of singing over the years.
     
    A few years after Mrs. Lynch reminded me of that day with Mr. Carthage, one of my cousins had a child who was the first baby in the family in many years, and my Aunt Kate said to all of us, “You see how excited we all are about this baby, how everyone wants to hold and love and talk to him? I want you to know that we did that exact same thing with every one of you. We love you all that way!”
     
    I had taken it for granted, up until then, the profound gift of having people in your life who know your backstory. People who can remind you of events and experiences that you had forgotten, who in some ways know you better than you know yourself. How important it is to have, or have had, people who knew you and looked on you with love, even before you were born.
     
    Each Christmas, we tell the story of Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh, remembering that God came to us in Jesus into the middle of human history to reveal the radical unfailing love God has for us. And today, on this second Sunday of Christmas, in the Gospel of John, we hear those ethereal words that remind us that Jesus, the Word, was present and moving in the world long before that night in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.
     
    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . All things came into being through him.” We don’t often think about it, but this is so profound, isn’t it? Christ was there, in and with and through God, from the very beginning of time. There isn’t a single thing that has happened since creation that Jesus was not intimately a part of. All life came into being through Christ, who then came to us in Jesus. He was formed in Mary’s womb, and she labored and gave birth to him in a stable in the tiny little town of Bethlehem.
     
    In Jesus, we know that there is nothing that has ever happened in our world or our lives that God does not know and care passionately about. Mrs. Lynch, among others, was able to share a slice of my childhood with me, but God knows our entire backstories, and us, better than we or anyone else ever will. Jesus came to show us that, just as my parents, aunts, and uncles poured love over each and every one of us in turn, so God delights in each and every one of us. Think about that for a moment. God delights in you!
     
    The story of God coming in Jesus is a story of a love so abundant that it surrounds and fills all of creation. Remember the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol? He brings Mr. Scrooge to all corners of the earth: a ship deployed on the ocean, a remote lighthouse, suburban streets, a deep mine, and a hospital. If we were to follow the Spirit today, we might find ourselves with people fleeing violence, poverty, and death in a refugee camp on our southern border; visiting people sick with COVID in a remote African village or in India’s Maharashtra; or with those who are unhoused on the streets of St. Louis. The Spirit would likely bring us to those in prison in our own city. When the ghost and Scrooge arrive at Bob Cratchit’s home in a poor, forgotten neighborhood, Scrooge asks why they are there, and the ghost replies, “It’s Christmas here too, you know!”
     
    God came in Jesus to an unmarried young woman in a stable in a tiny little town to show us that they are present everywhere, perhaps especially the most forgotten places. No one is invisible to Christ, who intimately knows and sees and loves all people, and all of creation. There is no one God does not see and delight in.
     
    This is the gift and the call of Christmas. God knows every detail of our backstories, and delights in each one of us, and every one of us. And we are created us to embody that love in the world the way Jesus did, to see and love the forgotten ones, wherever they may be. God delights in you! What greater gift could there be to share?
     
    Amen.
     
    So writes our pastor, Meagan McLaughlin, and we too say amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Mark Roock, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Dec 27, 2021Saint Stephen, the First Martyr
    Dec 27, 2021
    Saint Stephen, the First Martyr
    Series: (All)
    December 26, 2021. Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, and guest preacher Jon Heerboth's sermon is about following Stephen's example and being about the Father's business in feeding the poor, treating the sick, and supporting the marginalized.
     
    Readings: Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even." Well, that legend was that the king braved bad weather to take alms to a poor man on the second day of Christmas, the festival of Stephen, deacon and martyr. More on Saint Stephen in a bit. But I want to recognize this day on which we remember the first known martyr of the Christian church.
     
    In the Gospel of Luke that we heard today, it's been 12 years or so since Mary sang the Magnificat, her song of praise at the time of her impending motherhood. We at Christ Lutheran Church sang it the last four Wednesday nights — and said it responsively as the psalm last Sunday — so we've heard it a lot. Mary sang about God, who had scattered the proud, brought down the powerful from thrones, lifted the lowly, fed the hungry, and sent away the rich. All of this was to fulfill God's covenant with the ancestors.
     
    In this story, the reality of parenthood turned out to be different from the joy of the Magnificat. After several days of parental anxiety and panic, the twelve-year-old Jesus was unmoved when they found him. "Don't you know," he asked them — or "Wist ye not," the King James version asked — "that I must be about my Father's business?" That I have to be in my Father's house? That I am involved with my father's stuff? Don't you know that it is necessary for me to do this? The text says they did not understand what he was talking about.
     
    We don't always understand either. We confess that Jesus was truly God and truly human. Here we see what our confession actually looked like in the person and divinity of Jesus at age 12.
     
    After Passover, the great Jewish celebration of liberation, Jesus separated from his earthly family to tend to his real Father's business. Jesus sat in the temple, asked questions, learned from scholars, who were experts in the Jewish scriptures. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers, according to the text. So the temple scholars were amazed, and Mary and Joseph were astonished, as Jesus let them know that he knew who his real Father was and what God's business was with God's creation.
     
    Imagine what it would have been like for his parents to have to raise the Savior of the world. Imagine how they felt when they lost him. God didn't choose a wealthy or powerful family to raise God's son. Jesus was a small town boy from a relatively poor family. I'm sure Mary and Joseph were astonished. What in their lives, or in ours either for that matter, would have been preparation for Jesus?
     
    After this, an obedient Jesus went back to Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him, according to Luke. It's fascinating to hear how Jesus, who was fully God, could also be fully human, ask questions, learn from others, and develop wisdom.
     
    "Why were you searching for me? Don't, you know..." These were Jesus' first words in the Gospel of Luke. Perhaps Jesus was reminding his mother of the outline of Jesus' mission that she had sung so long before in the Magnificat. At any rate, this is all Luke shares about Jesus' childhood. We don't hear from Jesus again, really, until his first sermon in Nazareth in chapter 4. In that story, Jesus went to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath and read from Isaiah. Listen to what he said. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. And then he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." That's what we're doing. The people were amazed again. By the time he finished his entire sermon, the people were so enraged that they tried to kill him by hurling him off a cliff. But he escaped. Jesus is no manger baby anymore. His goals of helping the poor and marginalized, of overthrowing the wealthy and powerful, and offering eternal life to all, eventually led to his death — and then to the resurrection. Mary and Joseph managed to lose Jesus and found him again at his Father's house, doing God's business.
     
    We find ourselves here in God's house too, confessing our sins, accepting forgiveness and absolution, receiving Word and Sacrament, and praying for God to use us as tools to accomplish God's will for all creation. Every year, we hear how we lose Jesus in the hubbub of Christmas. But here we are back in God's house on the day after Christmas, worshipping under the open arms of Jesus. We find Jesus when we serve his mission to work for the oppressed and marginalized, and to work for the peace of Christ in our lives, in our congregation, and in our society as a whole. We know that our mission will not be popular among the rich and powerful. We go into the world with a set of values that are in opposition to prevailing views.
     
    In Colossians' reading today, Paul tells us how to dress for our job. "Above all," he said, "clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." Today's reading tells us how to live. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful." That is our mission. We usually think of the word "peace" as a noun. The peace of Christ is really a verb. It's something that we must commit to live and demonstrate and practice every day, the goal toward which we work as people of faith.
     
    How are we doing? Several weeks ago in the Sunday Forum, the Horns demonstrated that the countries in which Christianity were doing well were those in which people saw benefits from the work of the church. In other countries in which people look to governments for their social safety nets and care, the church was becoming irrelevant as the years passed. Are we relevant in our own country? Are the poor being fed? Are the sick treated? The marginalized supported? How about God's creation as a whole?
     
    When we reach out, we take risks. In our society, many want to believe that anyone can get ahead if they work hard. Are people suffering? "They should clean up their act." Poor? "Get a job, or a better job." Need childcare? "Quit having babies." "I don't want my tax dollars supporting someone who ought to be working as hard as I had to work." Those are all comments I copied out of the Post Dispatch in the past week, on a variety of social issues. And I think those are prevailing views among some people. A lot of people. Not here. "Don't you know?" we might respond. "We must be about our heavenly Father's business." Are we making a difference? Saint Stephen found out the hard way what can happen when Christians make a difference and upset the status quo. When Stephen's work and his wisdom upset the powerful, they trumped up some charges of blasphemy against him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death in front of Saul — or St. Paul, as we call him now. St. Paul, the writer of the book of Colossians, who said that we should clothe ourselves in love. That St. Paul. In Acts 8:1 Luke wrote, "And Saul approved of their killing him."
     
    This is the day we think about Jesus, both fully divine and fully human, about Mary, who had to raise this child, about our Father's business that turns the status quo upside down, about the potential dangers we may face when we attempt to become relevant to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray together that Christ Lutheran Church, through our worship in Word and Sacrament and through our outreach to community and Creation, may always be part of doing our Father's business.
     
    Let's pray the prayer appointed for today. We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen, the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
     
    Amen.
     
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    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth,  Colossians 3:12-17,  Luke 2:41-52
  • Dec 24, 2021God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
    Dec 24, 2021
    God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2021. On this Christmas Eve, Pastor Meagan's message is on how Jesus in all his humanity comes to us, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
     
    Readings: Luke 2:1-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    All Advent, we have been waiting and watching for Christmas to come. We've been listening to the messages of hope that have come to us through so many voices this season, letting us know of God’s promises to all people and all creation. And now, Christmas Eve has finally arrived, and we celebrate one more time the coming of God into the world in Jesus.
     
    Throughout all of humanity’s story, our story, as revealed in our scriptures, we hear over and over how we've been in relationship with God. God has come to us and spoken with us, made promises to us, and we've made promises to God. And over and over, humanity has fallen short. We have not loved and trusted the God who formed and loves us so well, we've not shown each other God’s love the way God created us to do. And we humans haven’t always lived up to God’s call for us, and we've revealed ourselves to be, as Luther says, not fully saint, not perfect, but both saint and sinner.
     
    There are those moments in scripture — like Noah and the ark, and the Israelites in the desert, and Lot and his family — where it seems God has given up on us. And at the last minute, always, something or someone changes God’s mind, convinces God to give us another chance.
     
    Often, we might think of Jesus’s coming as God’s final, last-ditch effort to save humanity, redeeming that which sometimes seems irredeemable... somehow emphasizing the brokenness of our humanity as compared with the divinity of God. This evening, as we come together to celebrate the coming of God in Christ, recognize the dawn of hope into our world in Jesus, there is another message that we can see in this most important story of our faith, and humanity’s place among God’s beloved creation.
     
    There are so many ways God could have come to us. Look at all the ways God showed up before this. A voice in a burning bush. A whisper in wind. Angels, over and over. A pillar of fire, and cloud. In the psalms, God moves mountains and shakes the earth. I could go on. And certainly the God who has come to us in so many ways could have come to us like this again, showing up in a way that illustrates a distinction between God and humans.
     
    But God didn’t do that when they came in Jesus. Of all the ways that God could have chosen to come into our world and reveal the love they have for us, in Jesus they chose to become one of us. A human being, flesh and blood. God embodied all of the love, mercy, and joy they have for creation and for us in this tiny little human baby.
     
    The most amazing thing about Christ’s coming is that it shows us that God has not given up on us, after all. The promises of God are not beyond us. In Christ, God has shown us that human beings, along with the earth and sky and trees and water and the fellow creatures with whom we live on this planet, are God’s beloved creation so much so that God chose to become human to reveal God's self to us.
     
    God has not given up on us. God came to us in Jesus, and because of that, we know God’s love for us endures no matter how much we might stumble. We know that, in all of our struggles, joys, pains, hopes, grief, and love, we have never been alone, and never will be. In Christ, God understands our human experience, claims us as part of God's beloved creation, and walks alongside us every step we take. Human and divine are not so separate as we might think. God is intimately connected to all of creation, and because Jesus came to us, we know that includes us humans, too.
     
    And just in case we might think that God came for some and not for all, look at our gospel today tells a different story. As so often happens, when it came time to let people know that Jesus was born, the angels first brought the joyous news to the shepherds, not the emperor. It was those caring for their sheep in the fields, unseen by most, uncounted by the emperor’s census, who were among the first to hear the incredible news of just how much God loves us.
     
    Jesus came to embody God’s love for all of us human creatures. And in the birth, life, and death and resurrection of Christ, we know that we are called to do the same. We can’t love and serve perfectly on our own — we are saint and sinner after all — but we followers of Christ are called to be transformed by the Spirit, to let God love others through us when we can’t do it ourselves. Jesus, in all his humanity, comes to us in this moment, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
     
    Fellow beloved human children of God, this is the promise of Jesus. Just when we feel the most alone, the most unworthy, the most irredeemable, just when the world around us seems to have crossed over that tipping point and is as hopeless as the world before the flood, God breaks in. Right into the beauty and the brokenness, God shows up in Jesus to make sure we know the truth, and everything changes as we enter into this promise. Hope dawns. God’s love persists. God hasn’t given up with us yet, and never will. And that is truly good news.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
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    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 2:1-20